The creation of exquisite, magnificent Renaissance art involves more than just paint on canvas; its influence is perpetual and never-ending.
This piece, A Game of Dice by Alfonso Montelatici, shows the use of the Pietre Dure technique. Developed from the Ancient Romans and then revived by 16th century Renaissance craftsmen, this craft involves the process of using various fitted and polished cut stones and fine marbles to create an overall picture. The Italian term literally means “hard stones” as different colored small stones are precisely chosen for placement and interlocked together so that the contact between each is almost invisible. The stones would then be inlaid onto a stone base. Often, craftsmen of this technique would choose very refined and rare types of marble and materials to heighten the elegance of the overall piece.
Not only requiring a vast amount of time and expenses, this technique required highly skilled craftsmen who could articulate images with stone in the same ways as in the Renaissance. The Montelatici family is credited for the revival of this intricate technique. Natives of Italy, the father of Alfonso, Giovanni, founded a workshop called Arte Musiva where numerous foreign buyers would flock to purchase their unique and stunning pieces. Later, Giovanni’s two sons joined him in the workshop. While there are not many details on the life of Alfonso, it is known that he had a unique stylistic approach to this stone “painting” technique that involved bold coloring and a gallant atmospheres.
This piece reflects the work that Italian Renaissance craftsmen perfected. If you look at this from a distance it seems like a traditional oil on canvas painting. However, when approached, you can discern the small pieces of stone and marble that make up the different cheery figures and shapes. The scene depicts two jovial men playing a game of dice while a woman happily looks on. The interior of the scene is communicated by fine pieces of taupe, brown, and grey marble, thus speaking to their own materiality as they depict a marble and stone like floor and wall surfaces. The robust, contrasting coloring and solidarity of the surface gives the figures weight and dimensionality. Regarding this piece, the viewer can almost feel the light atmosphere of the room and the echoing, cool feeling of the stone walls. It would be impossible for one to merely glance at this image and not desire to emulate the gaiety and happiness of the characters before you.
It is extraordinary that craftsmen at this time could yield such unique and remarkable pieces. Today, however, these pieces are extremely difficult to acquire. Though there were prolific craftsmen of the twentieth century who worked in this style, many do not reappear today.